Stories from the road: What we do when things go wrong

It happens to all of us. We plan the perfect trip, and something somehow goes horribly wrong. Sometimes it’s terrifying like being robbed. Sometimes it’s funny, like getting off the bus at the wrong stop. Sometimes, it’s spending four days stuck with no food in a powerless hotel room in a very small beach town in Baja, Mexico while a hurricane does its dirty work all around you. I’m telling you, that first bite of fish taco once we could go outside and restaurants were opened again was the greatest bite of my life. We had to cancel our ferry trip across the Sea of Cortez and book a flight to Mexico City. But it was fun to think on the fly and figure it out. 

I learned that peanut butter and bananas are perfect survival foods and there is always calm after the storm. Wait it out, make adjustments, and it’ll all be okay. And you never know what adventures await. Here’s what our Lonely Planet colleagues have experienced on the road and how they’ve solved problems, leaned on the kindness of friends and strangers, and survived to tell the story

Nothing wrong with a relaxing bonus day with your friends in Seoul © Serina Patel / Lonely Planet

Relax into a forced last day

Serina Patel, Marketing Manager 

Last year, I was flying home from Seoul to New York. My flight was at 4 p.m., but at 8 a.m., when I woke up, I saw that my flight was canceled. The shock! The planning! I was mentally prepped to leave and sit through my 14-hour flight. The airline was able to book me on the first flight the next day, so I arranged to spend the day with a good friend and her mom. They took me out for a delicious meal – where I ate 5lbs of Japchae (stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables) – I did some shopping (and cleared out the Olive Young store) and had the most relaxing last day of the trip. When was the last time you had a relaxing last day of a trip? For me, never. It’s usually filled with pre-trip jitters and sad emotions that my trip is coming to an end. But not this time!

What I learned: Don’t fight the change—lean into it! Unexpected changes happen all the time. By rolling with the punches, you can have a positive experience.

Top tip for traveling to Seoul: There is a bus that takes you straight from different neighborhoods in Seoul to the airport! You pay in cash when you get on the bus, so no need for pre-planning or booking.

Even the most seasoned travelers need to double-check the details  © Rachel Lewis / Lonely Planet

Stay humble and don’t get too comfortable 

Rachel Lewis, Senior Social Media Manager

My wife and I had a quick trip from North Carolina to NYC. It’s a trip we’ve done multiple times, so we weren’t feeling super stressed or nervous; nothing to stress about, right? Alas, we were a little *too* relaxed, to the point that we parked, strolled into the terminal, got through security, headed for our gate… and realized our gate did not exist. Somehow, we were in the absolute wrong terminal. Enter panic mode. We rushed, rushed, rushed, asked someone who worked at the airport for help, and a very kind man helped us find the quickest way to switch terminals. Back through security we went. 

What I learned: Don’t get too comfortable, and make sure you have TSA Pre-Check! Without it, we certainly would’ve missed our flight. 

Top tip for traveling to NYC: When I go to NYC, I like to pick one neighborhood and really immerse myself in it. Otherwise, I get overwhelmed with all of the choices. 

Don’t worry so much about blending in. Just enjoy your sandwich © Ann Douglas Lott / Lonely Planet

Eat the sandwich anyway

Ann Douglas Lott, Associate Editor

I’m working on getting over this crazy fear I have of being seen as a lousy tourist. I want to visit places the “right” way without breaking any of the unspoken rules. In Italy, for example, you don’t cut your pasta – you twirl it around your fork. You only wear flip-flops at the beach. You greet shopkeepers as you enter their stores. One day, I left my hotel in Venice exhausted, hungry, alone, and anxious about where to begin. Serendipitously, I found the perfect sandwich shop. As I confidently strutted away, holding my masterpiece of a sammy, a seagull swooped in and stole a huge chunk. Number one rule about eating in Venice: mind the gulls. A woman passing by screamed in shock. Great. Now everyone was looking. I could have cried out of both embarrassment and a lack of sleep. But I took a deep breath, turned the sandwich around and continued eating. And it was the best thing I ate the entire trip.

What I learned: No one actually cares that much about what you do. Just be respectful and try your best to learn the local etiquette, and you’ll be forgiven if you slip up (and you will). You’ll have way more fun with this mindset.

Top tip for traveling in Venice: Everything you need to know is right here.

With proper support, even five extra days can feel like a boon instead of a bust © Jessica Lockhart / Lonely Planet

Travel insurance + grace = winning extended layovers

Jessica Lockhart, Destination Editor, Oceana

In April 2024, I was in transit from Dublin back to Brisbane via Dubai when catastrophic floods made going through Dubai a no-go. I got to the airport in the morning, ready for my departure time of 4 p.m., but the flight departure time was pushed back to 3 a.m. 

From experience, I knew I could end up spending days in lines and sleeping in the airport, so even though my flight hadn’t yet been canceled, I saw the writing on the wall. A quick scroll of social media posts from the Dubai airport confirmed that my flight would likely be canceled. Another quick scroll of hotels in the area showed they were nearly all booked out. I needed to act NOW. 

Fortunately, my travel insurance policy (which I have filed in an email folder for quick reference while I’m on the road) covers hotels for delays of six hours or more. I figured my gamble was a win-win: If the flight departed at 3 a.m., I’d have somewhere comfy to hang out until then. And if it got canceled, then I’d get a good night’s sleep.

I booted it to a hotel where I managed to get the very last room! And just as I walked into the lobby, I got a notification from Emirates that my flight had officially been cancelled. 

In the end, I didn’t leave Dublin until five days later. But it was the most stress-free delay I’ve ever had. I was comfortable in my cozy hotel room. It also helped to know it was out of my control. Literally, thousands of people had been displaced by the floods. Understanding that the airline was doing its best in incredibly unfortunate circumstances helped keep the situation relatively stress-free. 

What I learned: ALWAYS have travel insurance and know what your policy covers. Annual plans are often more affordable if you’re a frequent traveler and also cover domestic travel situations. (My luggage got lost on this same trip, so my annual plan more than paid for itself on this one trip alone!) 

Second, although I usually book my own flights, this was booked by Lonely Planet’s travel agent. She saved me literally hours (and tons of stress) in rebooking my flights and was my lifeline in getting back home. I may just book my flights with travel agents from now on! 

Finally, have grace and patience in events outside of the airline’s control (like a flood or a strike). Getting angry or upset isn’t going to get you anywhere faster. During my five extra days in Dublin, I got to do some extra exploring that I wouldn’t have otherwise had time to do, which definitely made the situation feel like a bonus. Sure, I shed tears – but I also took advantage of an unexpected opportunity that had been given to me.

Top tip for traveling in Dublin: I stayed in a couple of hotels near the Dublin airport while I waited to find out when I’d get to go home. But I absolutely loved the family-owned Kettles Country House! It’s about a 10-minute drive from the airport, but way cozier and cleaner and less sterile than other hotels you’ll find near the airport. I’d highly recommend it if you ever have a layover or need to stay near the hotel in Dublin.

Laugh at your mistakes and carry cash to keep exploring © Deepa Lakshmin /Lonely Planet & Toni Corino /Listen Bar

Know the rules of the road and carry cash

Deepa Lakshmin, Director of Social Media 

Picture this: you and a friend are road-tripping through Portugal, driving down from Porto to Lisbon. You stop at Coimbra for a night to see the city and grab a bite at a restaurant your fellow Lonely Planet staffer recommended. You eat your weight in seafood, then come back to where you swear you parked your rental car, but its door won’t open. Your keys don’t work. You peer into the window and don’t recognize the interior. “Duh” moment – this isn’t your car! 

Turns out, you parked behind it over a pedestrian crosswalk, leading the police to tow it in the hour you were at dinner. You know this because you returned to the restaurant confused and found the one server who can speak English and saw what happened. He goes above and beyond to confirm yep, your car’s gone, and he calls the cops and talks to them in Portuguese to get the details. 

You use Portugal’s preferred ride-sharing app, Bolt, to hail a car to get you to the police station where your car is being held. There, police review your identification and charge you 195 euros (the parking ticket plus the cost of towing). Their credit card machine is broken, but luckily, you have cash, so they let you go. You drive back to your hostel with a lighter wallet but thankful you got your wheels back.

What did you learn: Double and triple check parking rules in the destination, because they may differ from your home country. If you find a spot and don’t know if it’s off limits, ask a local! Also, always keep cash handy and download apps you may need (like I did with Bolt) before traveling. Uber works in Portugal, but Bolt is cheaper and faster.

Top tip for traveling in Portugal: There are tons of potential day trips between Lisbon and Porto. Renting a car gives you flexibility to explore at your own pace – when we were short on time, we’d just drive through the main town square to get a sense of the overall vibe – but you can also take trains between most spots so parking won’t be a hassle.

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